Nationalists Usurp New Russian Holiday
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MOSCOW (AP) -- A Russian holiday created by the Kremlin to replace
the traditional celebrations of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution has
been usurped by far-right nationalists, who are fielding tens of
thousands of supporters for marches in Moscow and other cities on
In Soviet times, the Bolshevik rise to power was celebrated Nov. 7
with military parades and mass rallies. Boris Yeltsin, the first
post-Soviet president, renamed the holiday the Day of Accord and
Reconciliation, but as communists continued to celebrate the old
holiday with demonstrations across the country, it soon acquired an
Two years ago, President Vladimir Putin gave the holiday a new date,
Nov. 4, and a new name, National Unity Day. Intended to invoke
patriotism, the new holiday was immediately seized upon by extreme
nationalists, who have organized what has come to be called the
Sunday's demonstrations are being marshaled by the Movement Against
Illegal Migration, which advocates the deportation of nonwhite
migrants, and the Slavic Union, another white supremacist group. A
few smaller nationalist groups, including Russian Orthodox
fundamentalists and monarchists, will join the processions.
''Of course, we are not using the holiday the way the (Kremlin)
administration wanted it to be used,'' said Alexander Belov, the
leader of the Movement Against Illegal Migration. His name, based on
the Russian word for ''white,'' is a nom de guerre.
The Kremlin has tried to give the holiday significance by tying it
to the 1612 expulsion of Polish and Cossack troops who had briefly
seized Moscow at a time of political disarray. Months later, 16-year-
old Mikhail Romanov was chosen as Russia's new czar; his dynasty
ruled the country for 300 years.
Nov. 4 also is the day the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the
icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, one of Russia's most venerated.
For the Kremlin, the historical parallel was clear. After the
troubled years following the 1991 Soviet collapse, seen as a time of
economic degradation, uncertainty and loss of national pride, Putin
has overseen a resurgent Russia that has challenged the West to
reclaim its standing as a major international player.
A spokesman for Putin tried to play down the anti-Western character
of the holiday.
''It should not be connected to the Poles,'' spokesman Dmitry Peskov
told reporters. ''It's a day of national accord, national unity,
which is very important for Russia today.''
The anti-immigrant nationalists are using the holiday for their own
''It's not the Poles we will evict from Russia,'' Slavic Union
leader Dmitry Demushkin said at a news conference Thursday, as other
organizers of the Russian March laughed approvingly. ''The Russian
March goes on year round.''
At the inaugural Russian March in 2005, several thousand members of
the nationalist anti-immigrant groups marched through Moscow, some
shouting ''Heil Hitler.'' The march caused public uproar and the
following year police broke up the demonstrations.
This year, Moscow authorities have approved a Russian March for up
to 7,000 people, to be held along an embankment of the Moscow River,
away from the city center. Organizers also plan to hold marches in
more than 20 other cities.
Nationalist and neo-Nazi groups have instructed activists to
cooperate with police and avoid fights.
''All national socialists will march in a separate column,'' said a
posting on a neo-Nazi blog signed by a user nicknamed Special
Nazi. ''Bring your banners, the flags of your groups and brigades --
but not the extreme ones to avoid the aggression of the cops.''
Slavic Union supporters have agreed not to unfurl their banners,
consisting of four squares superimposed to resemble the Nazi
swastika, Belov said.
''This is a celebration of the Russian people. Nobody will
yell 'Heil, Hitler,''' said Yevgeny Valyayev, spokesman for the
Lev Ponomaryov, a rights activist, said the demonstrators' slogans
are merely cruder versions of what is said by Russia's ''anti-
liberal and anti-immigrant'' leaders.
''In the end, shortsighted Kremlin ideologists and strategists have
given the extremists a wonderful holiday,'' Ponomaryov wrote in an
opinion piece in The Moscow Times.
Russia has seen a rise in hate crimes, with more than 50 people
killed and more than 400 injured in ethnically motivated attacks
this year, according to the Sova rights center.
Several pro-Kremlin youth groups and the youth group of the liberal
Yabloko party plan counter rallies Sunday. The largest pro-Kremlin
group, called Nashi, or Ours, will rally near Red Square, where
thousands will make a giant ''blanket of peace'' symbolizing accord
among Russia's ethnic groups.
Only 23 percent of Russians know the name of the Nov. 4 holiday,
according to a poll released Friday by the Levada Center. Of the
1,600 people polled nationwide, only 4 percent knew the holiday
commemorates the liberation of Moscow from the Poles in 1612. The
survey has a margin of error of three percentage points.
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